Episode 10: The Thanksgiving Story


(15 November 1973) 34/2/10 (two hour episode)

Teleplay by: Joanna Lee.

Story by: Earl Hamner.

Director: Philip Leacock.

Music: Arthur Morton


The Thanksgiving Story


"Next to Christmas, I suppose you'd have to say that Thanksgiving was our favorite time of the year. We may have been poor in worldly possessions but at Thanksgiving, more than any other time, I think we knew, we really knew, how great was our abundance. It wasn't until the cold November of my 18th year however, that I fully understood what abundance meant. It was a time of terrible questioning for all of us, and when it was over, we all knew a bit more about Thanksgiving".


Part 1


Erin, Jim Bob, and Elizabeth bring pumpkins into the house, Jason and Ben crack walnuts for Grandma’s applesauce cake, and Grandpa and John work in the mill. Grandpa thinks the saw needs oil, while inside Grandma believes something is missing from her relish. Olivia thinks the missing ingredient is salt, but Mary Ellen believes its dill weed. Mary Ellen comments that she is trying out for the character Pocahontas (against Martha Rose Coverdale) opposite G.W. Haines’ character John Smith in the school play.


John-Boy drives up to announce his application for a scholarship at Boatwright University has been received, his grades are being transferred—on Monday he will fill out admission forms at the school. John-Boy is also excited to learn that Jenny Pendleton and her stepmother are arriving for Thanksgiving. He asks Grandma for a haircut so he will look just right. After a quick haircut, John-Boy helps with the Henderson order. He thinks that they could cut two boards at a time, but while cutting the first boards, the belt flies off and slaps John-Boy in the forehead knocking him unconscious. Grandma and Olivia take him inside to tend to the bloody cut on his head.


That night as John-Boy writes in his journal his fingers become numb. He writes: “It seems to me that my life is rushing past me at a furious rate. It doesn’t seem to be any time to do all the tings I want to do. And there are so many books I have yet to read. And so many words in me that I have yet to get down on paper….”


On Sunday Jason decides not to go to church, asking his father to borrow Old Blue so he can ride to the Baldwin’s who need help at fifty cents a day. John suggests he tell his mother what he is doing. Grandpa decides to smoke hams, but Grandma thinks he shouldn’t do it on the Sabbath. Miss Mamie and Miss Emily tell Jason that he will assist them in making a special batch of the Recipe to be sent to President and Mrs. Roosevelt. He will be fetching branch water, oiling the pump, and mashing corn. Jason agrees that it would be unpatriotic not to help.


Ben tells Grandpa that with Jason getting a new job and John-Boy off to college, he would like to help him smoke hams and shoot the Thanksgiving turkey. Grandpa wonders why he is in such a hurry to grow up.


They return to church, with John-Boy saying he is off to the Pendleton house to cleanup before they arrive. On the way, John-Boy meets with his Daddy who is hunting. But, as he talks with John, his vision blurs and his father’s voice is muffled. John thinks something is wrong, but John-Boy says he is fine.


At the house, John-Boy uncovers sheets from the furniture, cleans the windows, and sweeps the front porch. While trying to unblock the fireplace flue, Jenny and Eula drive up. Upon walking inside, they find what they think is an intruder. They yell to the man whose head is up the chimney, and find John-Boy turn around with black soot all over his face. They laugh at his appearance. That night at the supper table Jenny and Eula relate their encounter with John-Boy. Elizabeth asks if John-Boy has kissed her yet. She says no, but Elizabeth wonders if she wants him to kiss her.


At the old Walton homestead, John-Boy and Jenny sit at the fireplace. They look at each other, John-Boy moves closer to her, and they kiss for the first time. At this same time, John tells Olivia that Jenny and John-Boy are sensible young people, and she shouldn’t worry. Olivia likes the idea that John usually knows what she is feeling.


In the morning, John-Boy runs downstairs as Grandpa, Grandma, John, and Olivia eat breakfast. John says, “Imagine that this child is going off to register for college.” At college, John-Boy presents his papers to Miss Monsell (the Registrar). She admits that the depression has caused fewer scholarships but says his grades and faculty recommendations are excellent. She states that the examination (scheduled for Friday at 1:00 pm in Reardon Hall) will determine scholarships.


At play rehearsal, Mary Ellen, Erin, and the other girls watch as another girl auditions. Martha Rose shows up with an Indian costume and her hair in pigtails. Erin takes Mary Ellen away to braid her hair. Mary Ellen gives a fine audition and wins the role. John-Boy and Jenny talk about his exam studies. John-Boy admits he needs a college education to bring his writings together. John-Boy states that his philosophy is that “The world is a tragic place, people are pitiful, sad creatures but every now and then people have a noble spirit deep down inside”.


Jenny says she would like to read his journal, especially the part about their time together last year. John-Boy says that Samuel Clemens’ wife edited her husband’s work because he wrote suggestively. Jenny thinks he is very physical even with his philosophical manner. Jason works while Miss Mamie and Miss Emily admire his work quality, comparing him to their Papa. The sisters decide to adopt Jason so he can carry on the tradition of the Recipe. They decide to talk to Olivia about this matter.


John-Boy takes his dessert up to his room, but drops the plate when his hand becomes numb. He tells his mother that he tripped. Later in his room, John-Boy is unable to keep his hands from shaking. That night John and Jason play checkers while Grandpa makes a turkey caller for Ben that his Grandpappy made for him.


As a car drives up, Jason whispers to his Daddy that it’s the Baldwin sisters. The ladies announce they want to adopt Jason. Grandpa exclaims “Methuselah” and Olivia can’t believe what they said. When Olivia learns that Jason has been working for the ladies by making the Recipe, she goes to her Bible. John tells Jason, “I think she’s trying to be a Christian.” Olivia comes back to say that Jason will not work for them, that she will pretend the conversation never happened, and that they are invited to Thanksgiving dinner. She sees Jason off to bed, as John walks the ladies out to their car.


Part 2


John tells Olivia that she handled the situation with dignity and Christian charity. But she is mad at him for allowing Jason to work for the sisters. John finally says, “Lord, save me from a righteous woman.” John apologizes to Olivia and tries to see the humor in the situation. They start talking, telling each other how they both reacted. The next day John-Boy visits Rev. Fordwick to ask him for a recommendation. But on his way back to the truck, John-Boy becomes disoriented and falls to the ground. Rev. Fordwick wonders what is wrong.


Later John-Boy writes in his journal: “But I’m not fine. Somebody is going to catch on soon. I’ll tell them but it has to wait because tomorrow is just too important.” Jenny comes into his room to give him a “good-luck” kiss. He asks her to read to him a section in American History.


In the examination room, the teacher and the proctor watch as the applicants, including John-Boy, take the test. But, as John-Boy begins a new section, he cannot read the instructions. His vision is blurred forcing him to leave the room. Miss Monsell finds John-Boy unable to drive home. She calls John and Olivia, who drive him to Dr. Vance’s office. Dr. Vance believes that John-Boy has a blood clot pressing on the visual part of the brain. They rush him to the hospital. Back home, the family goes to church—leaving John at the mill. He becomes angry, kicking and hitting the saw. He looks up to the sky, and then puts his hands over his eyes.


At the hospital, Jenny visits the night before the surgery. She tries to lift John-Boy’s spirits with a little of that old pioneer spirit. She reassures him that he’ll get another chance at college. But she is worried more about the surgery. John-Boy realizes the surgery is serious. Jenny holds John-Boy, and he admits being scared. The next day Dr. Haley tells the family that the surgery was a success but John-Boy is still asleep. Olivia enters the room to wake him. He responds to his mother’s voice, but is still worried about the examination. Olivia announces that he is awake.


Grandpa looks in on the smokehouse. The children ask if they should have Thanksgiving. Grandpa doesn’t think that John-Boy would want them to cancel it. Ben and Grandpa decide to hunt for the turkey. At the hospital, the nurse finds that John-Boy has not eaten his meal. When John and Olivia enter, John-Boy is anxious for them to ask Miss Hunter to talk with Miss Monsell about giving him a second chance. Olivia has brought him cookies made to look like the family. After they leave, John-Boy eats one of the cookies, but feels like a cannibal.


Rev. Fordwick and Miss Hunter talk with Miss Monsell. Miss Hunter is adamant about letting John-Boy take the examination, even if he takes it at the hospital. Later Miss Hunter visits John-Boy to tell him that he’ll take the test in two days while still in the hospital. John-Boy doesn’t think he will be strong enough to even sit up during the exam. Miss Hunter asks him to think about the possibility, and leaves him books.


The school play is performed. When Martha Rose acts as an Indian Jim Bob thinks she “stinks”. John-Boy begins to study his books. John enters, set against him jeopardizing his life. But John-Boy asks his father what he would do if he were in his position. John says he would take the test. John-Boy asks him to help with some questions.


Grandpa and Ben climb the Mountain on their way to a turkey roost. Grandpa sounds his turkey yelper and soon a tom turkey appears. But Ben fires before aiming, and misses the bird. Grandpa knows the turkey will not return, telling Ben that he must learn to wait next time. They go to Mr. Higgins where Ben barters for a turkey in exchange for three chords of firewood and one half bushel of walnuts. Ben tells Zeb that he’s the “best grandpa in the whole, entire country”.


Jenny visits John-Boy as he studies. He is scared but feels he can win everything with this second chance. John-Boy tells Jenny that he loves her, and she tells him that she loves him. John-Boy takes the exam as Miss Hunter looks on. John and Olivia wait outside, the children wait at home, Grandma and Grandpa pray at church, and Jenny goes to the old homestead. Later Jenny arrives to wait with Jim Bob and Elizabeth. Finally, the test is over, John-Boy feels confident, and both he and Miss Hunter are relieved that he finished.


Back home, Olivia and Grandma finish with Thanksgiving dinner. Grandpa tells his story about his dog who flagged down the train. Elizabeth finds Jim Bob upstairs writing a letter to John-Boy. He has only written “Dear John-Boy” and Elizabeth adds, “Miss ya” and “xxxxxx”. Jim Bob says to Elizabeth, “You’re smart!” and she responds, “I know”. Olivia calls everybody to the dinner table. Grandpa says grace, but Elizabeth and Jim Bob are upset that John-Boy can’t be with them. John thinks that Yancy is arriving when a car drives up. But the family rush to John-Boy when he and Dr. Vance enter the house. John-Boy gives a kiss to Jenny and says, “Happy Thanksgiving”.


Grandpa says another grace, “Oh, my dear Lord, look down upon this family on Thanksgiving Day, and we ask you to bless all of our dear friends assembled under this roof with the abundance that you have showed upon this family. And for the joy and love and caring for one another that all of us feel. And for most especially, dear Lord, that you have brought home to us our eldest boy safe and sound, Amen.” Everybody joins in with the joy of this special day.


"Several weeks were to pass before we were to know the decision of the scholarship committee. The announcement came by telegram. My name was on the list—my journey was about to begin—I had won the scholarship".


John-Boy (screaming from outside): I've got it! I've got it! I've got it!

Everybody (shouting and cheering).

John: You're wonderful.

Olivia: I never kissed a College man before!

Elizabeth: Can I go with you?

John: I'm proud of you, son.

Jason: Next time it'll be me!

Mary Ellen: And me, I'm going to College too.

Erin: If you're going then I'm going.

Grandma: Well I can't get over the passing of time, just yesterday he was a baby and next thing you know he's going to be getting married.

Ben: Who's going to help us with homework now?

Jim Bob: I will, Ben.

Ben: How can you, you don't even know how to –

Jason: John-Boy when you go to College can I have your room?



John-Boy is eighteen years old.

The episode begins on a Saturday before Thanksgiving in November 1934.

Jenny Pendleton first appeared in The Love Story (season 1, episode 17). She is an Episcopalian (belonging to the Protestant Episcopal Church).

Jenny has applied to the girl’s college across the lake from Boatwright University (sometimes called Boatwright College).

Ms. Monsell, Boatwright’s Registrar mentions that her boss is Dean Beck.

The Baldwin sisters want to give Jason the “blue room” as his bedroom (the room that Ashley Longworth stayed), and pay for his college studies at VMI. VMI is Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, Virginia, and its web site is http://www.vmi.edu/.

Rev. Matthew Fordwick went to Virginia Theological Academy. In Virginia, there is a Virginia Theological Seminary, which may have been what was referred to here. It is located in Alexandria, Virginia, and its web site is http://www.vts.edu/. (It is a Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary, but Rev. Fordwick is a Baptist.)

John-Boy expects to major in journalism at Boatwright.

Philip Leacock, the episode’s director, was nominated for an Emmy for best direction, and Joanna Lee, the episode’s writer, won an Emmy for best script.

Rance Howard, who plays Dr. McIvers, is Ron Howard’s father. Ron Howard appears as Seth Turner in The Gift (season one, episode eighteen).


Also appearing:

Jenny Pendleton (Sian Barbara Allen), Eula Pendleton (Diane Shalet), Martha Rose Coverdale (Cindy Eilbacher); Rev. Matthew Fordwick (John Ritter), Miss Rosemary Hunter (Mariclare Costello), Miss Mamie and Miss Emily Baldwin (Helen Kleeb and Mary Jackson), G.W. Haines (David Doremus), Dr. Vance (Victor Izay), Miss Monsell (Nadine Turney), Nurse Stewart (Claudia Bryar), Dr. McIvers (Rance Howard), Dr. Haley (Ivan Bonar), Jerry (David Henesy), Mr. Higgins (Paul Sorenson), Teacher (Monty Margetts), Procter (Keith Atkinson), Fern (Teresa Medaris), Mabel (Kym Karath), Nurse (Betsy Finely).


(synopsis written by William Atkins and edited by Arthur Dungate)